New Carnival Operator Among Changes This Year At Arkansas State Fair

Sep 17, 2017

The Arkansas State Fair one evening in October 2015.
Credit Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

The Arkansas State Fair kicks off next month on October 12 and this year will be using a new carnival company to manage the rides.

"It’s a company called North American Midway Entertainment," says Ralph Shoptaw, general manager for the Arkansas State Fair. "They’re big; all of their equipment is big. Most of the rides that come in with this carnival are what we call two-trailer rides."

That's a change from the past, he says, when each ride was usually small enough to be transported by one tractor-trailer. Rides to be featured this year include a giant wheel, two roller coasters, and a taller drop tower. "There will be a very noticeable difference in this carnival."

Ride safety could be a concern for fairgoers after a ride called the Fireball malfunctioned earlier this year at the Ohio State Fair, killing one and injuring several more.

File photo of Arkansas State Fair General Manager Ralph Shoptaw on Oct. 6, 2015.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Shoptaw says the rides in Arkansas are inspected by representatives of the state Department of Labor who are trained under national guidelines. In addition, North American Midway Entertainment has its own set of inspectors.

"They inspect the rides as they’re going up and after they're set up, they inspect them again," Shoptaw reassures. The rides are then inspected daily and, over the course of the fair, are inspected between "20 or 30 times."

A Fireball ride like the one that malfunctioned in Ohio State Fair will not be at this year’s Arkansas State Fair due to a suspension nationwide by the manufacturer. It had been used in previous years.

Another safety addition at this year’s fair is the installation of metal detectors.

"We’ve always placed our patron safety at the top of the list," Shoptaw said. "In the past we’ve had wands, but we were able to purchase four walk through metal detectors and rented two more."

They will be stationed at each gate to check fair goers as they enter the grounds and are similar to those at airports, Shoptaw says.

"Our folks come to the fair have fun and we just don’t want anything to deter that."